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U.S. Officials Authorize Families of American Personnel Near Key Turkish Air Base to Leave

The State Department authorized families of U.S. workers in southern Turkey to leave voluntarily.

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Worried about a militant backlash against Americans in Turkey, President Barack Obama’s administration said Thursday it would support the departure of family members of diplomats and other personnel at the U.S. consulate in Adana and nearby Incirlik Air Base, the launching pad for Pentagon warplanes that are striking the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.

American F-16s have been flying missions from the base, located near the Syrian border in southern Turkey, since Aug. 12. The State Department warning comes as a wave of violence breaks out across Turkey, including an Aug. 10 attack on the U.S. consulate in Istanbul. No one was killed in that incident, but separate attacks left 9 dead.

Pentagon spokesman Peter Cook said the military would pay for families of service members stationed at the base to leave; up to 900 people are eligible to do so, he added. The State Department would also pay for relatives of its workers to leave, but U.S. citizens “are responsible for making their own travel arrangements.”

“We worry about the safety and security of our military personnel and their families everywhere around the world. This is just a step being taken to further that effort and specifically to give them this choice,” Cook said.

The consulate in Adana, a city located five miles from the Turkish air base, will continue to operate normally.

When asked about the travel warning during Thursday’s daily press briefing, State Department spokesperson Mark Toner called the warning “precautionary, and it’s in line with how we generally postured ourselves in other locations.” He would not say if it is in response to a specific threat.

The travel warning was more specific about the nature of the risk to Americans.

“In the recent past, terrorists have conducted attacks on U.S. interests in Turkey, as well as at sites frequented by foreign tourists,” the State Department said in a statement. “We strongly urge U.S. citizens to avoid demonstrations and large gatherings. Even demonstrations intended to be peaceful can turn confrontational and escalate into violence.”

Turkey launched its first air strikes against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria in July. It has struggled over the last year to deal with a crush of refugees from Syria, as well as a new campaign against the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), a group that Turkey and the United States have designated as a terrorist organization. On Thursday, four Turkish police officers were killed by a bomb blamed on the PKK.

Photo credit: Getty Images

David Francis was a senior reporter for Foreign Policy, where he covered international finance. @davidcfrancis

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